Built 2 Last is built to encourage

By Rebekah Daunt

At first sight, the fitness centre on Turfsingel street might seem like just another gym in Groningen. But make no mistake – this is not your regular health club.

More than a job

When I step into the lobby at Built 2 Last, I suddenly forget that I am in Groningen, almost 30 kilometres from the coast. The room is warm and inviting, a change from the harsh, bitter wind that whips past the front door. A large canvas promoting a sunny beach scales the aqua blue wall.

I shiver as I remove my jacket and adjust to the change of temperature. Build 2 Last owner Mizra Bouwland (37) instantly greets me. “First things first,” she starts. “Get comfortable, relax, you have only just arrived. Here, have a drink,” she says while flashing her perfectly white teeth in a charming smile.

Moving further down the corridor, I find scarce evidence of state-of-the art equipment, saunas or luxurious dressing rooms. Instead, I see bustling fitness studios and a team of trainers who are committed to producing some of Groningen’s strongest competitors. Their special touch? Getting to know each and every one of their members on a personal level.

“I like being here and I love coming to work. When I am not at the gym, I miss the people who are here,” Mizra tells me. Dressed head to toe in sporty loungewear, her blonde hair frames her tanned face. “This a big part of my life.”

Health as a lifestyle

Built 2 Last began its story in September 2017 after a former gym on the same site, named Construction, went bankrupt. “This is a completely new business, a fresh start. We have new members and new rules,” explains Mizra.

With so many gyms in the area, competition for new members has been a concern from the get-go. “We have only been open for a year and a half and we do not have the same expensive equipment and facilities that TrainMore or BasicFit have. So rather than investing more money, we invest ourselves in here.”

“The Built 2 Last name is a huge part of who we are” she says, sitting at a chrome finished table back in the lobby. She slouches back on her chair comfortably, sipping on a fruit tea. “In order to grow a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body, you have to build yourself up. But you also have to stick with it and you have to make it last. When it comes to health and fitness, there is no quick fix,” says Mizra.

She gently twirls the label attached to the teabag in her glass. “It is indeed a lifestyle.”

To my right stands a dinky clothing store, fully stocked with gym wear and sports equipment. A surfboard balances above the clothing rails next to a snowboard and a pair of skis.

Images of a surf shack somewhere on Australia’s east coast pop up in my head. “That is the vibe we are trying to create here,” nods Mizra.

A reception-bar hybrid takes up the back wall. The receptionist turned barista starts up the coffee machine and grinds some beans. The shrill of the coffee grinder momentarily drowns out the low drone of chatter. “I want people to feel chilled and relaxed in my gym,” says Mizra. “As if they were at home.”

Friendship over membership

But aside from the aesthetic, what is it that makes Built 2 Last different from the many other gyms in the area? Mizra thinks it´s the philosophy that revolves around creating a community. Her fitness centre focuses on individual members rather than being blinded by a corporate business model.

“Our members are different from regular gymgoers. They come to get away from the crowds that you might find during peak hours someplace else. They do not want to wait to use the machines and they are not interested in these huge industrial sized complexes,” Mizra describes her clientele.

The team at Built 2 Last know their members by name. They know their story and their fitness goals. Whenever a member celebrates a birthday, the gym celebrates too by surprising them with a birthday cake and by throwing a little party.

“This is a small gym and our members are not just a number. Everyone who comes here is sociable, they are nice to each other and they communicate well with each other. More importantly, they help each other out”.

Mizra stops mid-sentence to greet an elderly man who has just entered the lobby. He is about to leave after completing his workout. They chat and laugh together for a few minutes before he exits the building.

Built 2 Last specialises in small group training and incorporates exercises tailored to their members´ needs. No two classes are the same. The team of trainers here do not follow a predetermined workout plan and strive to make each class original.

Membership fees are all inclusive. Each member can avail of the personal trainers to help them meet their fitness goals with no extra cost. “We help our members in any way we can. If we are available, we will train them personally free of charge,” Mizra explains her methods.

Challenge accepted

Mizra and her partner, Bob Boekweit (50), who is a personal trainer at Built 2 Last, host year-round fitness competitions for their members. These challenges are held four times a year and participants begin training five to six weeks in advance.

Those brave enough to join must take on cardio based workouts combining high intensity interval training and weight training, all against the clock. Whoever completes the challenge within the shortest time, wins.

The training sessions and challenges are followed by coffee mornings, lunch dates and barbeques, depending on the season. These social events allow members to celebrate their fitness achievements and to build friendships. Members sometimes team up spontaneously to compete in other races. 

Last summer, Built 2 Last won the ‘Burpee Mile’, a high intensity challenge that required participants to complete a mile of burpees.

This year, another team will be competing in the Strong Viking Challenge. They will grapple with a 7km, 13km, 19km or 42km obstacle course through the mud. This gruelling challenge, held in Nijmegen on 30 March, attracts competitors from all over the Netherlands.  “Our Viking Team train together in our gym two times a week. They are well prepared for this event,” says Mizra.

We are family

Mizra and Bob have made many friends at their gym over the past 17 months. Unfortunately, a big chunk of their members are students who eventually move on after their studies. “There are a lot of students at Built 2 Last, but the problem is that many of them are leaving. They don’t want to go, but their qualifications take them elsewhere outside of Groningen. This makes me sad because we are not saying goodbye to a member. We are saying goodbye to a friend,” explains Mizra.

The two owners have invested a lot of time and energy into keeping their gym alive. They are hopeful that the inclusive environment that they have created will attract more members and lead to financial stability.

“We value all our customers and we are thrilled when our members decide to settle in Groningen,” finishes Mizra. “These people are so inspiring and bring so much energy and positivity to this place. This is not just a gym. This is a family.”

The one night stand

Let’s Talk about Periods

By Clémence Waller

“You seem pissed off, are you on your period?”

“Really, it shouldn’t be talked about in public, this is a private issue.”

NOPE. Sit down ladies and gentlemen, we need to set some things straight as this affects everyone, women and men.

Before I start, I want to say that I do understand that not all women have periods and that not everyone that has a period is a woman. I am writing this in mind of anyone who does have to go through periods, regardless of their gender.

Periods are messy: yes. Can they be painful? Sometimes, depends on the person. Are they optional? No! Is it “normal”? HELL YES! Is Period Poverty real? Yes! Should it be? No!

So What Is It All About?

Quick recap for those of you who have never heard of this natural phenomenon. Periods are when someone’s body expels blood from their uterus and out their vagina. This process allows the body to eliminate the old uterus lining, avoid infections and clean out the space for a fresh new set up to welcome an eventual baby.

Think of it as a monthly deep clean of the oven so you can put a fresh bun in it.

It is understandable why, at first, this topic may make some of us uncomfortable, both male and female. You are practically bleeding for 5-10 days without dying. That’s some Walking Dead shit right there!

It sounds scary: sometimes women who go through it, experience unpleasant emotional and physical changes because hormones are playing tag in their body. But it is a completely natural, healthy process and talking about it, educating both boys and girls about it, is the only way to break the taboo that affects half the population.

It’s not “dirty”, it’s not “sinful” or “disgusting”, it’s just a process you have to go through once a month.

A Matter of Dignity

In 2015 Christian Eckert, a French politician compared his razor and shaving cream to be equally important or vital to men’s dignity as period pads or tampons are to women. To paraphrase Sophia Aram, French comedian: between his opinion and toilet paper, toilet paper has more value.

If a man does not shave, his dignity is not affected. Men have a choice whether or not they want a beard, most women do not have a choice about whether or not to have a period. Aunt Flow is coming at some point during the month, you just need to be ready for her when she does.

Ladies, who has not asked another female at least once, if she had a pad or a tampon because you got caught off guard?  Who here has not gone into a public bathroom hoping she had enough change to pay for a pad? That fear of standing up and revealing that bright red stain on your butt that screams “I’M ON MY PERIOD! I’M SO ASHAMED AND DIRTY”, is very real and it’s time to do away with this once and for all.

Gentlemen, who has not been asked at least once by a close female relative or significant other if they could go to the store to get an emergency supply of tampons or pads? Why is it so embarrassing or “emasculating” to help out a woman you love who is in need? Tampons and period pads are no more embarrassing to buy than pants or shirts. You need clothes in order to go out and about in society and menstruating women need these products to do the same.

In 2016 France finally reduced the taxation on female hygienic products from 21% to 5,5% (the standard first necessities rate throughout most of Europe, barring a few exceptions such as Italy at 22%). Whilst this reduction is absolutely a great way forward, the cost of these necessities still adds up to a hefty monthly and yearly budget. There is still more that can be done, like having social security cover part of the cost. Scotland has already made a landmark decision and is making period pads and tampons free for students and low-income women; more countries should follow this example.

A Violation of Human Rights

In Western Europe we are “lucky” in certain ways that we can shout out about our periods or talk about them more or less openly, however that is not the case for everybody.  In December 2016 a young Nepalese girl died of poor ventilation in a hut she had been exiled to during her menstruation as part of the Chaupadi ritual. Women should not have to be put in physical danger just because they are experiencing a non-optional biological phenomenon.

In France, in schools of disadvantaged neighborhoods, girls find themselves unable to afford period pads and schools are having budgetary trouble providing them to girls. In the US, Medicaid, SNAP and WIC don’t cover the cost of hygiene products as they are deemed “luxuries”. I can promise policy makers that anyone who has to go through periods does not feel that glamorous or luxurious.

In the UK one in ten women between the ages of 14-21 cannot afford period products and girls find themselves skipping school for fear of staining their uniforms. At this point this becomes not only a health issue, but also an educational one.

An important female demographic to consider who are severely impacted by period poverty would be homeless women and incarcerated women. These members of our society are unable to receive regular income to pay for those expensive products and so are forced into a situation that not only compromises their dignity but also their health.  

In 2017, the British charity Shelter estimated that 68,000 women were sleeping rough on the streets, in emergency housing or shelters. In an address in the house of commons Paula Sherriff explained that the government funds homeless shelters to buy condoms and razors but not sanitary products.  They have to rely on charitable donations for those. Homeless women have said that to cope, they makeshift their own sanitary products by ripping up socks, clothes and even stuffing newspaper in their underwear. They sometimes overuse their sanitary products which can lead to dangerous diseases such as toxic shock syndrome.

Incarcerated girls and women face similar problems. In Arizona state, female detainees are allowed on 12 pads a month. Any person who has had heavy flow periods will know that 12 pads may not be enough. These women are paid 15 cents an hour and have to pay for extra pads via the commissary, which charges them full retail price. Detainees are often forced to come up with alternative solutions to sanitary products, have to barter amongst themselves or ‘free bleed’.  

A bill was proposed in February of this year to combat this and was decided by a panel of nine men. Not a single woman was on the judging committee. In the UK, women are often left to bleed in their cells and do not have access to water to wash their hands. With restrictions to their access to affordable sanitary care, female detainees are constantly humiliated and their dignity discarded.

As part of the western world, we often laud ourselves in being nations that respect human rights and hold human dignity to a high standard. Women and any person who has periods are included in the word ‘human’. Article 3 of the European convention of Human Rights provides that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.  This is an absolute right. In laymen’s terms, under no circumstances are any member nations of this convention allowed to breach this basic human right. By denying sanitary products to the women that cannot afford them, their human rights are being violated.

So What Can We Do?

Period Poverty needs to end. This is not asking for special treatment or considerations, this is asking for basic respect. Make period products affordable and accessible to all so that we can achieve our full individual potential and give back to society.

All in all: be cool, support women who are menstruating by supporting initiatives that make period products accessible and affordable, donate pads and tampons to local charities and go with the Flow.